Titular Troubles Point The Way In Breast Health

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New York plastic surgeon and medical school professor Jane A. Petro is scheduled to give a provocative speech at a dinner for Milwaukee Gynecological Society but some are planning to boycott -- over the title of the speech.

The "vulgar," "pornographic" and otherwise offensive title is "The Politics of Tits: A Psycho History of Breast Medicine."

At least one doctor is so upset he'll boycott the event on the principal that a word used to describe breasts, 'tits,' is more important than the issue of breast care health itself. This medical professional has complained not just to his cronies, his family, and I'm imagining the word police, but he's gone to the media regarding this horrific, brutal, scaring episode.

He wants the word 'tit' removed, or the whole damn thing is off. (Is that irony or what?)

Doctor Petro, the woman giving the speech, is delighted by this turn of events.

"I'm thrilled that somebody was upset with this," she said in a phone interview. "I actually have been using that title for almost 30 years, and it's probably 25 years since I had a reaction to it at all."

During the speech she puts up a slide showing 200 words in the English language for breasts and she traces breasts in art through the centuries with nearly every example favoring the "adolescent, pre-pregnancy aesthetic ideal."

This is no titillating slide-show, she does this for a reason.

"There's a historical conflict between the way traditional male-dominated medicine has viewed the female breast as a medical problem, and it conflicts with the subjective emotional feelings that men have about the female breast as a secondary sex organ," Petro said. "When you call a breast a tit, you're immediately calling attention to the fact that this is an important secondary sexual characteristic."

And this is what her speech focuses on, how the male view of the breast is at odds with the female affection for and sexual use of tits -- and how that led to the overuse of radical mastectomies.

"I think it was a hostile aggressive act against women by men who weren't thinking about their sexual attachment to the breast," replied Petro, whose practice includes breast reconstruction after cancer.

A message one doctor wanted removed because of one word. A message he and apparently others will now miss entirely with their boycott. The presentation will go on, but they will not be there to learn from it. I pity their patients.

Patients who cannot be aware of who this is because he only talked "on the condition that he is not identified."

While I give obvious kudos to Jane A. Petro, there are other kudos to passed out too.

Kudos to Deborah Larkey, a doctor and president of the local gynecological society, whose reaction was intelligent:

"Poor fellow," she said of the complainer. "I'm just so sorry there are people who take issue with things like this."

"We don't censor our speakers. We have something called free speech and the First Amendment in this country. Vulgar is in the eyes of the beholder. That's what I teach my children," she said.

Amen, Doctor.

Now in my eyes, the cavalier removal of a breast is vulgar.

As is the doctor who shields himself from enlightenment based on the use of a sex word.

And kudos to the reporter, Jim Stingl, for not only doing a good job of reporting facts in the midst of such hysteria, but in his witty last line.

Where I come from there's an expression, "You're the tits," which means you think they are a delightful, wonderful person whose on top of the list. (Just like breasts.)

Jane, Deb, Jim, you're all tits with me.

 

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